Secret Family Recipe

Our half bushel of tomatoes sat on top of the washing machine for four whole days before I got around to deciding what to do with them.  It's not that I wasn't motivated to make something--I really was--it's just that summer is slipping away from me faster than I realized.  Really, where does the time go?  Anyone know the answer?

Tim and I decided that making some all-purpose tomato sauce would be the best option.  I say "all-purpose" because before we started tossing ingredients into the pot, I hadn't really considered what we would use this sauce for.  Pizza sauce?  Spaghetti sauce?  Are there other types of tomato sauce?

We started a sort of assembly line in our little kitchen.  Since we only have a small area of counter space, we set up stations.  Tim was over at the stove blanching and then peeling tomatoes and I was next to the sink working on coring and chopping.

We started our sauce operation around 5:00pm on a Thursday night.  I know it's ambitious to make sauce on a weeknight, but I knew we wouldn't have time over the weekend.  With our picky eater in high school now, our leisurely weekends are a thing of the past.

As I dropped the first batches of tomatoes into a boiling pot of water, I quickly realized we didn't have very much ice in the freezer.  Tim went out on an emergency bag-of-ice run while I made do with what little ice we had.

I was pleasantly surprised at how easily the skins of the tomatoes slid off after spending only 60 seconds in a hot bath and 60 seconds in a cold one.  Tim came up with a system to make a little slice on the bottom of the tomatoes and then pull the skins off from the bottom to the top.  He then placed the peeled tomatoes in a bowl on the counter while I tried to keep up my coring and chopping with his peeling pace.

You would think that we  were running a tomato factory with the amount of tomato juice puddling on the counter-top.  I tried to manage it by sopping up as much watery juice as I could after every few tomatoes, but eventually I started just pushing it into the sink and apologizing in advance to Tim for the inevitable clogging that would follow. 

Working in batches, I pulsed the chopped tomatoes in the food processor until the tomatoes were in small pieces, but not completely pureed.  We like a little texture to our sauce, but if you'd prefer yours to be thinner, by all means, process them more.  By the time we had finished processing all of the tomatoes, it was nearly 9:00pm.

Then this is where I have a little more trouble describing what we did.  I tossed in about 1/2 cup of olive oil, maybe more, a few tablespoons of tomato paste, a few cloves of grated garlic, some salt & pepper, and a half a palm-full of red pepper flakes.  It was more of a taste-and-go system where we would let it simmer for a while, taste it, and then add a little bit more of this or that.  At the very end of cooking, Tim tossed in a good handful of fresh lemon basil that he had chopped up.  It added a really great fresh fragrance to the sauce that I know will reemerge when we reheat this another day. 

Since we didn't strain the tomatoes before processing them, the sauce started very watery.  By 10:30pm, after lots of stirring and thumb twiddling, Tim was satisfied with the consistency.  We got out our little plastic containers and filled them up, taking care to date and label the lids.

Before putting the lids on, we let the sauce cool for 30 minutes or so.  Just when Tim could barely keep his eyes open any longer, we put the lids on the sauce and transported them to our deep freeze.  By the next day, our seven pints of sauce were frozen solid and ready for their fall hibernation.

While tomatoes are still available straight from the vine, we will keep buying them.  But in a month or so when there are no more local tomatoes in sight, we will have our homemade sauce--our secret family recipe.  So secret not even we could recreate it.


Half Bushel of Tomatoes

A few weeks ago I had my name added to a very long wait list for bulk tomatoes from Butterfield Farm Market. The options were a bushel or half bushel.  As the clerk pointed out the container size for a half bushel,  I think she noticed my jaw dropping. 

"A half bushel is plenty," I told her.  "When do I pick it up?"

She kindly explained to me that being on the list doesn't guarantee any tomatoes.  It all depends on the amount of tomatoes available and there were an awful lot of names ahead of me.  I understood--there is never a sure thing when it comes to vegetable plants. I was prepared to be disappointed.

But the call came and my half bushel of tomatoes is ready to pick up.  There is no turning back now on this whole canning thing. 


My Birthday

Don't lie to me and tell me that summer is not coming to an end.  And I don't want to hear any of that summer in Ohio can stretch out until mid-October nonsense.  It's enough disappointment to admit that I've only gotten to a handful of things on my summer list.  But if anyone would know the signals of the end of summer, it's me.

That is because today is my birthday.  And my birthday always marks the end of summer.

School begins at the end of August.  A slight chill returns to the air at night in August.  The trees start to turn their first leaves towards brown of utter exhaustion from trying to hold out for some rain.  It all reminds me of my birthday.

Don't get me wrong--there are good things about having an August birthday.  I get to spend all summer gearing up to celebrate it.  There are no major holiday distractions like Christmas or Halloween.  It's always warm and sunny outside so flip flops and tank tops are my birthday wardrobe. Margaritas and icy beers are weather-appropriate celebratory beverages. 

I've been doing my very best to celebrate in whatever way this end-of-summer birthday takes me, and I hope you will join in.  With some sautéed peaches, perhaps?

Sautéed Peaches
serves 3-4

2-3 medium peaches, ripe
1 tbsp sugar
Juice of half a lemon (about 2 tbsp)
2 tbsp butter

Peel peaches and cut in half.  Discard the pit.  If there are any reddish brown patches from where the pit met the flesh of the peach, scoop that out and discard.  Cut into slices and place in a medium bowl.  Add sugar and lemon juice to peaches and set aside.

Melt butter in a non-stick skillet over medium heat.  Add peach mixture and cook for 5-7 minutes, stirring occassionally to prevent burning and coat peaches in butter.  When the liquid thickens, remove from heat.  Allow peaches to cool for 1-2 minutes before serving.

Serve warm with vanilla ice cream and a pinch of cinnamon.


Do Your Eggplant Justice

I will never say no to Eggplant Parmesan.  My sister and I are both addicted to P.F. Changs Stir-Fried Eggplant.  And in the spirit of adventure, I am willing to give Stuffed Eggplant a try.  I would be willing to go out on a limb and proclaim that there are few ways that I would not devour eggplant.

This past weekend we bought the most beautiful light purple eggplant.  Its skin was so light in the bright morning sun it appeared almost white.  I wasn't even certain it was an eggplant at first but the farmer assured me that except for the difference in outer color it would taste like any other eggplant.  When I sliced it open it revealed the pearl colored inner flesh of the eggplant dotted with almond colored seeds. 

I wanted to do this eggplant justice and honor its inherent flavor and texture.  I think my end result would give any eggplant-lover like myself a very satisfied side dish or main course.  

Grilled Eggplant
serves 2-3

1 medium eggplant
3 tbsp olive oil, divided
salt & pepper

Peel the eggplant if you desire, but it's not necessary.  Slice the eggplant across into 1/2 inch thick rounds.  Place eggplant in a gallon-sized zip lock bag.  Add 2 tbsp olive oil, salt & pepper to the bag.  Toss eggplant to coat and set aside for 30 minutes.

Heat a grill pan over medium heat (or outdoor grill).  Add 1 tbsp olive oil to pan and arrange eggplant rounds in single layer.  Cook for 3-4 minutes on first side until eggplant begins to release liquid and browns.  Flip and cook for an additional 3-4 minutes, removing eggplant to a plate.  Repeat if necessary with remaining eggplant.  Season with additional salt & pepper to taste, if needed. 

Serve warm as a light entrée over rice or couscous or as a side dish. 


Eggs on Sunday

Tim and I are big breakfast people.  When we first started dating, we would go to breakfast at a diner called The Echo in Hyde Park.  I loved that place because we would always order the same things:  eggs, potato cakes, bacon, and a Diet Coke for me and either the same for Tim or an omelette with coffee.  Sometimes my old roommates would also join us and one of them always ordered her version of the Hyde Parker omelette:  egg whites, spinach, tomatoes, and feta cheese.  Everything was always perfect.

We are both creatures of habit when it comes to breakfast, but there are times when we try something new.  For example, right after we watched Julie & Julia, Tim went out and bought me Mastering the Art of French Cooking.  I promptly baked my family a cheese soufflé.  It was tasty, but I quickly realized that there wasn't much substance to a plain cheese soufflé and it wasn't a very filling brunch.


My friend, Meg, wrote about eggs baked in ramekins and I really haven't been able to get that concept out of my mind.  The nice thing about making eggs in this manner is that you can make individual portions and don't have to spend time tending to a pot of boiling water for poaching or a sauté pan for frying.  And the way we made them was a good use of the endless tomatoes available at the farmer's market

Baked Eggs in Tomatoes
adapted from Everday Food magazine
serves 2

This recipe can easily be increased to serve more than two or paired down for one.  You can also adjust the seasoning amounts to your taste or add any diced vegetables like corn or zucchini to the egg mixture for more texture.  

2 large, firm tomatoes
2 large eggs
2 tsp fresh chives
2 tbsp grated Parmesan, Gruyère, or other hard cheese
salt & pepper

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.  With a paring knife, cut around the top of the tomato, taking care not to pierce all the way through to the bottom.  Using a spoon, scoop out the insides of the tomatoes, without poking through the skin.  Arrange tomatoes in a baking dish lined with foil or parchment paper.  Salt & pepper tomatoes.

In a small bowl, mix eggs, chives, salt & pepper.  Pour egg mixture into tomatoes.  Top with cheese.  Bake for 35-40 minutes or until egg mixture is cooked through and cheese is slightly browned.  

Serve immediately.


Those People

It's come to my attention that Tim and I are now those people.  You know, the people that others take pity on because we have black thumbs and couldn't grow anything on our own.  The other day our friend Luke dropped by and gave us a bag of beautiful tomatoes that I promptly used in salads and a weeknight pasta dish.  Then my sister gave me more than 20 jalapeños from her garden.  I'd like to think that she just didn't know what to do with 20 jalapeños and figured I could find something, but secretly I think that when she stands in front of her thriving garden she feels badly that we don't have anything growing on our side of town.

Then Tim came home from work yesterday with two beautiful banana peppers that a coworker had given him.  Pardon the cell phone pic--he texted this to me while I was still at the office.

I texted back:  what are you going to do with them?

Tim's reply:  stick them in my ears.

I married a jokester.  I wouldn't want him any other way.  But clearly neither of us know what to do with a banana pepper except put it on a pizza.  Any suggestions?


A Picky Eater and Weeknight Pasta

I would not consider myself a picky eater.  That being said, I do have a list of things I will not eat or generally avoid.

Jen's "I prefer not to eat" list
  1. Anything fennel flavored
  2. Mushrooms on pizza
  3. Corn that's not on the cob
  4. Venison
  5. Canned salmon
  6. Snails
  7. Yogurt
I'm sure there are more things, but these are foods I have tried or been asked to try but declined because of their gross factor.  I would say many people may agree with my list or may agree with a few but also have a few of their own to add.  Is there anything you absolutely do not eat?

Overall, I would not consider myself a picky eater.  I like spicy food and I'm fairly adventurous with my choices.  I will try just about anything once (except, again, for things with a big gross factor).  I can't remember if I was picky as a child, but I do know that I didn't like sausage patties or links at breakfast and I wouldn't go near green peppers.  I believe that as we grow older we either appreciate more diverse flavors or we can just taste things less and therefore things are more palatable.

I know that something I cook passes the Picky Eater Test if my stepdaughter will eat it.  She is the ultimate (and increasingly) picky eater and it's important to me to find things she will like.  I mentioned to my friend K.C. (who got married in this past July) that I was trying to find new meals to make and she passed along a recipe that was Picky Eater Tested by her husband and stepson.

I'm forever grateful to K.C. for giving this recipe to me because not only was it well-received by my picky eater, but it was extremely quick and easy to prepare.  I appreciating having a friend who really gets where I'm coming from.

I threw in some grape tomatoes that our friend Luke gave us last week.  The tomato added a nice flavor and a pop of freshness that balanced the creamy sauce.  My stepdaughter didn't eat the tomatoes, but this pasta was a nice compromise between Adventurous (me) and Picky (her). 

Linguine with Romano and Mascarpone
loosely adapted from Thirty Minute Pasta (though I've never seen the original) 
serves 4 as a main course and 6 as a side dish

8 oz of linguine (or any pasta)
4 tbsp mascarpone
3 tbsp grated Romano cheese, plus more for garnish
1 egg yolk
1 tsp fresh thyme (or 1/2 tsp dried thyme)
salt & pepper
pasta water
1/4 pound grape tomatoes

Bring a pot of water to boil.  Cook the linguine to al denté.  In a large bowl, mix together mascarpone, Romano cheese, egg yolk, and thyme.  Add 1-2 tbsp pasta water to the cheese mixture until sauce is creamy.  Drain pasta and add to the bowl with cheese mixture.  Salt & pepper to taste.  Slice grape tomatoes in half and toss with pasta.

Serve warm with grated Romano cheese.

And the winner is...(drumroll, please)

The winner of the Ball Canning Discovery Kit and the person who will be held entirely responsible for supplying their family, friends, and intenet strangers with delicious canned goods all winter long is...

Commenter # 2:  Beth

Beth said...

I discovered my love for canning last summer! I have made pickles, hot pepper jelly (family fave!), blackberry jam, and strawberry peach jam. This summer, I want to make raspberry jam, blueberry lime jam, and spicy pickles!

I generated a winning number by using Random.org's random number generator.  I've sent Beth an email and as long as she gets back to me within 48 hours, she will have the canning kit mailed directly to her from my friends at Ball!

I've done a little canning myself over the past week and I'm still working on a few more things.  I think I see a "Week of Canning" in my blogging future.

See you all again soon!


Ball Canning Luncheon and a Giveaway!

Last week I attended a canning luncheon hosted by Ball at Local 127 restaurant in downtown Cincinnati.  Since canning and preserving are on my summer list, I was really excited to attend.  Of course I got out of a work meeting late and was running behind, parked in the wrong parking garage, and practically ran down Race Street (all part of a normal day for me), but I still made it there just as Chef Geddes was beginning his presentation.

As Chef Geddes said, canning and preserving are all about, "good ingredients and capturing that magic while it's at the peak of its truth."  Well put, Chef.

While he spoke about the significance of canning in his personal life and his career, we were served a delicious, seasonal lunch.    First was summer greens with Kenny's Farmhouse Cheese and fresh tomatoes.  I believe the salad was tossed in a very light vinaigrette, but the standout of the salad was really the cheese.  I liked it so much I asked if I could get it locally, and Chef Geddes told me it is sold at Whole Foods.

Then we were served our entrée, Heritage heirloom pork tenderloin with cheesy grits, charred cabbage, and a tomato salsa.  Chef Geddes told me he went to West Virginia just for this rare breed of pig and hand selected the cuts of meat for his menu.  The pork was really juicy and perfectly cooked, although I didn't ask the method.  The cheesy grits were light in flavor and added a better texture than a mashed potato would have offered.  The salsa was unexpectedly mild with a great tomato flavor.  Chef told us that the salsa recipe comes in the recipe book with the Ball Canning Discovery Kit.  I was completely sold on Ball recipes after he said that--I needed to make this salsa!

As we started eating our cheesecake in a jar (pictured in my previous post), Chef Geddes began to show us how easy it would be for us to prepare this salsa.

You need to know some basics to be able to safely preserve your summer produce.  The first tip was to make sure your jars are sterile.  You can do this by running them through the dishwasher or washing them with hot soapy water.  You want to put your food in the jar while the food and jars are still hot.  If you want to keep your sterile jar hot while you prepare your produce, then set them in a pot of hot water that is simmering but not boiling.

The next is to follow a recipe.  There were some questions about ingredient substitutions, but the reality is--it may be unsafe to make adjustments.  Spice can be changed but any other adjustments will affect the acidity and processing times.  Recipes that are published by Ball are tested and follow FDA guidelines for food safety.  This way there is no risk.  I'm all for not dying of botulism, so I will follow the recipes. 

When you are filling the jars, don't touch anywhere inside the lid or the lip of the jar.  It's best not to risk any contamination.  Leave about 1/2 inch of headspace at the top of the jar and then run clean knife around the inside of the jar down to the bottom to remove any air bubbles.  Then top with lid and screw on band until it is tight.

Using the green rack in the Ball Canning Discovery Kit, you can safely lower the jars into a boiling water.  This is a great tool for beginner canners (like me) who want the entire process to be simplified.  Then process the filled jars according the time amounts in the recipe, and then allow to cool.  If the lid allows any give when you press on it, then the processing was not successful and your product will not be safe to store on the counter.  If this happens, you will have to refrigerate or eat immediately.

I agree with Chef Geddes' description of how canning can profoundly connect you to your food when he said, "it's like a memory that you can bring back and taste it."  I know it seems a little cheesy, but when I am canning and preserving this summer, it is something that will bring me back to all of my experiences I have had this summer with food: our garden failing, our new love affair with farmer's markets, and our new appreciation for summer's bounty. 

I had such a fantastic time at this event and learned so much that I want to share the excitement with my readers.  That is why I'm giving away a Ball Canning Discovery Kit to one lucky reader! 

Rules for entry:
  1. Only 1 entry per person.
  2. To enter, leave a comment and tell me what you'd like to use the canning kit to preserve this summer.
  3. If you do not have a blog with an email address or contact information listed on the blog, please leave your email address in the comments so I can contact you if you win!  If you do have a blog that lists contact information, I will go there and get your information. 
  4. No comments logged after 11:59 p.m., Sunday, August 8, will be considered for the giveaway.
  5. Winner will be announced here on the blog on Monday, August 9!  

Good luck to everyone!  You are all winners to me.